NEA’s case for BEIS Committee to run a single day inquiry into the Fuel Poverty Strategy for England.
I would like to make the case for the committee to run a single day inquiry into the Fuel Poverty Strategy for England.
I will talk about why this inquiry would be timely, a proposed structure, and the impact that it can make. Millions of households are fuel poor, residing in each of your constituencies. There are live policies that can be influenced to help them.
I’ll start with the legal part. The 2013 Energy Act requires the Government to publish and implement a strategy for reducing fuel poverty in England. This is still pending despite it being almost a year since it was consulted on. The Act requires three things of the strategy.
Firstly, to describe the households that it applies to. This has a material impact on the design of schemes such as the Green Homes Grant, announced by the chancellor last week.
Secondly, to describe a “comprehensive package of measures” to ensure more efficient use of energy. This has partially been addressed via the Green Homes Grant. However, we are still awaiting confirmation of details. Other existing policies have been described by this committee as “underfunded” and “in need of complementary schemes.”
Thirdly, the strategy must set targets and interim objectives. The 2020 milestone, according to the Committee on Fuel Poverty, will be missed. Milestones lack teeth – they are not set on the same statutory basis as the final target.
It is an opportune time to conduct such an inquiry.
The legal requirements to form a strategy in England are mirrored in Wales, where the strategy is also in the process of being updated.
Scotland and Northern Ireland have also been spending time reassessing their own strategies.
Whilst I am aware that this Committee cannot scrutinise the devolved Governments, it is imperative that actions taken in Westminster can learn from Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Any work to facilitate the learning of lessons from devolved nations could be fruitful for the design of strategies across the UK. The benefit is not limited to England and Westminster.
As for the structure of the inquiry, NEA proposes a one-off session used to scrutinise several areas.
A priority area is whether the UK Government is doing everything “as far as reasonably practicable” to meet the target and milestones. Recent announcements have been welcome, but the Committee on Fuel Poverty have identified that longer term programmes are needed to meet the 2030 target and 2025 milestone.
Another area to explore is whether the milestones and targets are sufficient, and aligned with other government priorities. Much has changed since the formation of the original strategy in 2015. Our statutory carbon targets have been made significantly more ambitious, and there is a question over whether other, related targets, such as those for fuel poverty, should be more ambitious themselves.
Furthermore, the strategy contains provisions for direct financial support, alongside energy efficiency improvements. Each nation has a different approach to seeking the right balance between of these, and it is not clear how Westminster has used the lessons learned from the devolved nations to support its own strategy for England. Interrogating this could be fruitful for all four nations.
A final aspect would explore how the strategy is implemented across Government. Whilst the responsibility for the strategy clearly sits with BEIS, the benefits, costs, and actions needed to execute the strategy are defrayed across several departments. Over one million fuel poor households live in social or private rented housing, where MHCLG has a major role to play. Addressing fuel poverty has a positive impact on people’s health, and the cost savings to the NHS will be seen by the department of Health and Social Care. Treasury allocates the costs of meeting net zero which has a profound impact on the number of households living in fuel poverty.
Before I finish, I wanted to put some of what I’ve talked about into the context of a world in which coronavirus is dominating. Even before the crisis, on average 10,000 people each winter from living in a cold home. One of the largest contributors to this is vulnerable people, often struggling with existing ill-health, being unable to heat their homes adequately, if at all.
Being cold at home leads to respiratory problems and lower resistance to respiratory infections.
Warm homes enable immune systems to better fight off viruses, reduce the likelihood of suffering more acute respiratory symptoms and help improve the recovery process.
Whilst there is currently no cure for Covid-19, there is a cure for cold homes; improvements in energy efficiency can help fight against respiratory conditions, including coronavirus, and therefore help to save lives.
Ensuring the Fuel Poverty Strategy is working as well as it possibly could is crucial. The two great challenges of our time are beating the virus, and eliminating carbon emissions. Ensuring that the poorest people can live in a warm home is absolutely central to both.